Author credits family dog for recovery from PTSD

By Diana Del Mauro | The New Mexican


Deborah Dozier Potter hasn't been ambushed. She hasn't pulled the trigger in the face of an enemy or watched women and children take bullets as civilian bystanders.

Her life is a far cry from combat exposure in Iraq.

But, similar to many of those who return from war, she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Published right here in her hometown, Potter's book, Let Buster Lead: Discovering Love, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Self-Acceptance, recounts her road to recovery. Psychotherapy and medications are routine treatments for PTSD, but she discovered something else that works — a dog.

She's not alone. This summer, a Gulf War veteran traveled from Indiana to interview dogs at Assistance Dogs of the West in Santa Fe. His case of PTSD brings on seizures.

With her two sons grown and her business slowing down, Potter had big plans before she was injured. She and her husband Earl were in Long Island, N.Y., building a second home, while also designing a swimming pool for their Santa Fe home.

One unfortunate day, she found herself flat on her back looking up at the face of a horse trainer. The horse that threw her to the ground had bolted toward a polo field where practice was going on, and that's all she remembers.

Potter's "trouble in paradise" anecdote is a reminder that post-traumatic stress disorder can afflict all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons.

Any traumatic event in which a person is the victim or witness to an injury or death can prompt feelings of intense fear, helplessness and horror. Those who develop PTSD are changed by the experience — plagued in both their thoughts and dreams. Sometimes, their entire personality changes.

According to the National Center for PTSD, about 8 percent of men and 20 percent of women develop the condition after a traumatic event.

Potter's fall left her with a concussion and broken bones in her pelvis, ribs and collarbone. Later, she would realize, it also left her with a lot of fear — a fear of being touched, even by her husband, and a fear of public places.

The story Potter tells is how Buster, a border collie she had adopted at the animal shelter after her father died, turned out to be more than her best friend. The aging pet, which ran to her side after the horse threw her, helped her regain her sense of safety in the world.

Potter had Buster trained as an official service dog. Because post-traumatic stress disorder is recognized as a disability, she could take him wherever she went and he calmed her symptoms, allowing her to move past the pain and become social again.

"I learned a lot about myself after my injuries," Potter writes. "But I might never have grown from them, had it not been for Buster."



  • What: Deborah Dozier Potter presents her book about her favorite service dog, Let Buster
  • Lead: Discovering Love, Post-Traumatic Stress and Self-Acceptance.
  • When: 5 p.m. Oct. 19
  • Where: Garcia Street Books, 376 Garcia St.